25 Jul 2024


Industrial robot sales plunged by 15% in the UK during 2018

The number of industrial robots sold in the UK during 2018 (left axis) fell by 15% compared to 2017. The slowdown accelerated towards the end of the year.

The number of new industrial robots sold in the UK plummeted by 15% last year compared to 2017, according to figures released by Bara, the British Automation and Robot Association. The fall follows two years of steady growth. If automotive applications are excluded, 856 industrial robots were sold in the UK last year – 13% fewer than in 2017, when 988 were sold.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the UK now has 42 industrial robots installed per 10,000 employees in non-automotive sectors of industry. That figure is less than half those of France (89) or Spain (87), and way behind the European market-leaders, Germany (on 191 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees) and Sweden (on 180).

Bara chairman Mike Wilson suggests several cultural reasons for the poor penetration of industrial robots in the UK, including: the requirement to achieve short-term returns; the widespread use of “low-cost” labour in the UK; a lack of investment in capital equipment; the UK attitude to risk; and perceptions about robotic automation.

Although Wilson believes that robotic automation has the potential to transform the UK’s manufacturing competitiveness and productivity, he identifies several challenges, including a lack of end-user knowledge which means that users are unable to identify opportunities for robotic automation, or to produce suitable specifications.

Another difficulty is that good robotic integrators are usually busy and difficult for end-users to access. To help ease this aspect of the problem, Bara has set up an integrator certification scheme with the aims of:

. improving the technical capabilities of integrators, and raising their quality standards;

. helping end-users to choose integrators; and

. eventually, increasing the UK’s capacity for robot integration.

Bara has developed the scheme in conjunction with the US-based Robotic Industries Association (RIA), with input from end-users and integrators. The scheme will help integrators to demonstrate their capabilities and to differentiate themselves from each other. It will also help end-users to find qualified integrators and to increase levels of trust, potentially leading to stronger relationships between integrators and users.

The scheme will include detailed on-site audits of integrators undertaken by expert personnel from the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). These audits will confirm the integrators’ capabilities and experience and certify best-in-industry business practices. The programme will also ensure that integrators understand robot safety standards and will test individual personnel to verify their knowledge, skills and experience. In addition, certified robot integrators will have to demonstrate that they perform risk assessments on every system that they install in accordance with the relevant standards.